Cheap on the bottom line, expensive in lives

Beware of cheap, and too good to be true replacement parts and servicing. Yet again, it appears counterfeit material has made their way into the shipping industry, this time in the refrigerant used during servicing of shipping containers in Vietnam. The refrigerant reacted in the system making it combust spontaneously in the presence of air.

This type of story is nothing new to those aboard, but is has been slowly making the mainstream media, as three dock workers have been killed in Brazil and Vietnam.

You can read about the cause from Lloyd’s List below. Here, here, and here are some media stories on the subject – mostly focusing on the economic impacts of the crisis, estimated to affect 1000 containers, predominately operated by Maersk, and some by CGM CMA. Here‘s a news report from Seattle discussing the obvious… “hey there’s a potential bomb all over the container yards”.

Cheap substitute refrigerant could have led to reefer explosions
Monday 07 November 2011, by Sylvia Traganida

Consultant Cambridge Refrigeration Technology is assisting Maersk Line with its investigation.

A COUNTERFEIT refrigerant containing methyl chloride is the most likely cause of the explosions in the reefer containers that killed three men who were carrying out maintenance and repairs, and has forced Maersk Line and CMA CGM to ground their reefer boxes.

According to consultants Cambridge Refrigeration Technology, which is assisting Maersk Line with its investigation, material recovered from the exploded units has been analysed and has been found to be corroded by a chlorinated compound. Traces of alumina were also found at the sites.

The methyl chloride contained in the allegedly counterfeit refrigerant blend, which had been added to the systems, reacted with the aluminium in the compressor forming trimethyl aluminium, a liquid at room temperature which ignites spontaneously on contact with air, water and halogenated hydrocarbons.

“The counterfeit refrigerant is labelled as HFC-134a and is being unwittingly added by repairers to refrigeration systems. In fact it is probably a mixture of cheaper gases blended to give the same vapour pressure,” Cambridge Refrigeration Technology said.

The company added that lines need to make sure that refrigerant comes from certified sources and is tested for the presence of chlorine.

This article has 3 Comments

  1. the refrigerant has also been found to be coming from Korea aswell as from Vietnam. I am sailing on a vessel which was carrying 2 of these containers but luckily they were not carrying any cargo, just trans-shipping empties.

    Lets hope they get it sorted soon!!!

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